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Beyond “Red sky at night”: Communicating weather for commerce and safety

Earth Day (April 22) was a heady occasion for Kim Klockow, 2013-14 Congressional Fellow sponsored by American Meteorological Society and University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. It was her first time in the hot seat testifying before the U.S. Senate. “Weathering the Storm: How Can We Better Communicate Weather to Enhance Commerce and Safety?" was convened by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation as it considers its version of the Weather Forecasting Research and Innovation Act – a bill Klockow had followed while a fellow.

Kim Klockow

Klockow, third from right, testifies on weather communication (April 22, 2015). | U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce

When she was wrapping up her fellowship last fall, the Senate Commerce Committee was searching for subject matter experts in weather risk communication. One of the House bill’s goals is to increase tornado warning lead-times to an hour. “I kid you not,” said Klockow, “my dissertation topic essentially boils down to ‘What would happen if we increased tornado warning lead-times to an hour?’ The AMS and UCAR recommended me as a witness and a few weeks after I'd finished my fellowship, I was back in the Senate. But this time I was on the other side of the table providing a briefing to staff.”

This spring, the Commerce Committee scheduled a hearing at which they wanted to highlight the communication aspect of weather forecasting. Remembering her expertise, staff requested Klockow testify. “I honestly can't think of a way for the world to come full-circle any more beautifully than that.”

I have one piece of advice: It's tempting to focus on building a large network of professional connections, especially when you're not sure what you'd like to do in the future. But I encourage my fellow fellows to never lose sight of the person you're connecting to: don't just build vast networks – build deep ones.

Shortly before the hearing, she began receiving calls from ABC News and other news media. “I think that was the moment I realized my life was probably never going to be the same. I had landed in a spot where I could voice the concerns of the many hundreds, if not thousands, of people working in meteorology and human-oriented disaster sciences who want change. I'm a deeply faith-driven person and I spent a lot of time in prayer asking for the strength and wisdom to serve them well.”

Klockow attributes much of her success in the hearing to her fellowship experience. “Having planned hearings, I understood what was expected of witnesses, what the rules were for presenting, and what questions to ask staff so I could direct my comments most helpfully.” Read her testimony here.

I'm living a career I could never have dreamed possible before the fellowship.

“This experience gave me the confidence to know that even as a young professional, I have the skills and knowledge to represent my field well. I'm so grateful to AAAS, my sponsoring societies, and Senator Merkley's office for all they've done to foster my professional development.”